Breaking down the Leafs and Capitals, position by position,
ARLINGTON, VA.— Daniel Winnik wasn’t surprised his crafty-ex coach, Mike Babcock, tried to make it sound like all the pressure was on the Washington Capitals.
Caps coach Barry Trotz said Babcock was merely “playing” the media. And no one on the Capitals accepts that the weight of expectations are too high for the Presidents’ Trophy winners.
If mind games counted in the series, the Maple Leafs might be up 1-0 because the Capitals spent a lot of time reacting to Babcock’s comments about how pressure can get to the favourites.
“That’s what they’ve done in Toronto since Mike got there is temper expectations,” Winnik said Thursday. “I wouldn’t expect them to say anything less. I find a lot of that stuff is media narrative to create a storyline for the series. I don’t think here as a group we feel that pressure that everyone is talking about.”
Maybe so, but even Trotz got into it, acknowledging the many and various ways the Capitals have disappointed themselves and their fans by crashing out early in the playoffs in recent years but adding things are different this year.
“We had pressure the last couple years, and that’s been common here,” Trotz said. “I think we’re way better with it. I listened to Babs’ comments, he’s playing you guys with that, but I think we can understand that.
“We expect ourselves to do well, that’s the expectation that we put on ourselves. I don’t think that’s going to change. I think we’re way more prepared for that, maybe than we were last year.”
As for the pressure, well there’s plenty of that to go around, says defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk.
“It’s the playoffs. It’s the Stanley Cup,” said Shattenkirk. “If you don’t feel any pressure at this point of the year, I don’t think you’re human. It’s good. You welcome that pressure.”
The talk in Washington isn’t if the Capitals will beat the Maple Leafs, but how many games it will take. Few here think longer than six. The Capitals finished higher, beat the Leafs two out of three games this season, are healthier with John Carlson expected back in the lineup while To- ronto will be without Nikita Zaitsev.
Then there’s this: Capitals players have 1,017 playoff games to their credit. The Leafs, 292. And up to 10 Leafs will make their NHL playoffs debut.
“We have to respect them,” said forward Tom Wilson. “They’re a fast, skilled team. If you don’t take care of the puck and play the right way, they’re going to eat you alive.”
The Capitals have lost a series in seven games six times. And the weight of history follows the team around. The Leafs, neatly, have set themselves up as a possible Cinderella story.
“We’ve had a target on our chests for pretty much two seasons now,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to get the job done no matter what the seeding is.”